Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bouncing Back

I just had what could be my last walk of the year. The temperature has really bounded back from the minus 7 or 8 Celsius we were experiencing just over a week ago. Today it is in the mid-teens, as it was yesterday.

One of the results of that is early morning mist. As I climbed 300 metres from Quillan to the Col du Portel I was in and out of this mist, and into brilliant blue sky and bright sunshine The effect was quite eerie at times.

When I was at the highest point, looking down, I was well out of the mist, which was still enveloping people at the market down below - people who still had no idea what a fine day they were in for once the sun had burned off their chilly blanket.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


So, we are about to enter 2010. The year in which I will attempt to walk an average of 30 kms a day for 70 days. To go back in time from where I am now to where I started. To reverse my steps, in terms of geography and timescale. While recognising that there is no going back from the 70 years of age I will hopefully achieve next July.

Among the things I have accomplished towards this end, in 2009:

More than 4,600 kms of training walks.
The route decided on and maps acquired.
A major sponsor (Columbia Sportswear) on board.
Lots of support on my blog and various forums.
A campervan on order, for base and support vehicle.
A decision to use the walk raise funds for Pancreatic Cancer research.
Significant press coverage to publicise the fund-raising.

Less welcome has been the return of the knee injury which, several years ago, finished my career as a competitive athlete.

Even less welcome than that has been the discovery that I have a serious problem with my eyes, which will only get worse, for which there is no treatment, which will prevent me reading and which means already that I can not see the tracks on the maps for which I have spent a small fortune. Could it be that I will accidentally be retracing Eric Newby’s Small Walk in The Hindu Kush? This is the book I am currently reading and I have been struck, once again, by how very ill-prepared so many of these people were for such major undertakings.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Starting At Zero

A beautiful day today. Started out at zero degrees, then warmed up to about 10, which feels OK after a cold spell.

Walked 22 kms today. 91 for the week, which is not bad for Christmas week with a couple of really wet anti-tramping days. Over 4,600 kms for the year. I don't suppose I shall do too many more before we hit 2010, the Chinese Year Of The Big Walker.

Those are the Pyrenees in the distance. Doesn't look too warm higher up, does it?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Mulled Wine and Baby Horses

While much of Europe, including Britain and northern France, suffered from a much-too-white Christmas, we had rain putting a dampener on things.

The intention, as last year, was for Gay and myself to walk to Nebias through the woods and return across the plain. A total of 16 or 17 kms and an excuse for the mulled wine and mince pies when we got home.

But it was raining much too heavily for that to be enjoyable. As I have said several times, during VBW itself, I will have to ignore the rain because the daily kilometres must be covered or the target will not be met. At the moment I have the luxury of selecting comfort over a soaking - also I hope that in May-July the temperature will be above yesterday's 4 degrees.

In the afternoon the rain eased off for a while so we did a sedate 4 kms round a truncated "Baby Horse 6" course. Not that we have seen a horse, baby or not, on that circuit for some years now.

But we still had the mulled wine and mince pies, of course!

Thursday, December 24, 2009


A topsy-turvey couple of weeks, walking-weather-wise.

First it was so cold that the winter dressing dilemma arose - the amount needed for the first hour was much too much for the rest of the walk.

Then the snow was getting so deep it was really strength-sapping. Then the bits where I had to walk at the side of the roads became impassable because of piled-up, melted then frozen-again snow.

Then the temperature rose just a few degrees above freezing and the snow disappeared as if it had never been here.

I think we need these very cold spells so that when the temperature, as now, creeps up just a little bit, it feels positively warm. If we had come down to 8 degrees from, say, 20, we would think it was cold.

Still, it's nice to think that, in a couple of weeks, we shall be in the southern hemisphere for a final burst of warm weather training for the Big One.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Thank Goodness I Was Born In July

Just walked 34 kms from Puivert. The only people I saw - one man and child in the village of Rivel, after 27 kms. All the way it wasold, wind in the face, slip-sliding at various points on packed snow and re-frozen snow melt.

But a happy thought struck me. Thank goodness I was not born in February. Then I would have been starting VBW in December and looking forward with trepidation to a possible 10 weeks, 30 kms a day, of such winter walking!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Girding Up The Loins

A shorter walk than normal today. My usual thing on Sunday, after the shopping trip to Esperaza market, is to drive to Quillan, have another coffee, gird up my loins, and walk back to Puivert with the usual climb through the woods. Although almost all of the route is off-piste, there is one section of quiet road, about 2 kms. The edges of that road (which of course are where I walk) consist, at the moment, of packed snow, shoved aside by snowploughs and traffic. This makes the middle of my 16 kms route dangerous and to be avoided.

So Gay dropped me off at Nebias (pictured above) for a 6 kms amble through the countryside to home.

Despite the weather I have managed to walk 68 kms this week, which takes me over 4,500 kms for the year. Clearly, as it is December 20, I will not be adding much to that before we hit 2010. But it is a bit of decent groundwork, is it not?

Saturday, December 19, 2009


More snow is falling. Conditions are too dangerous for walking today, so we have spent some time on mapping out some of the French section of VBW.

I mentioned some time ago that I have bought scores of maps, nearly 50 for France alone. But there is a problem. Because of the serious and deteriorating disfunction of my eyes, I can not see the dotted lines (on some maps - on others it is a solid line, of a different colour! - these maps are all part of the same series!) which represent the Grandes Randonnees, or walking tracks.

Gay can see them, so she has been highlighting the tracks in bright and broad yellow. At the moment I can make that out - I just hope that I will still be able to do that between May and July next year.

I will have the same problem with the English Ordnance Survey maps, but once I get to Oxford and move onto canal towpaths, I shall be laughing, as the lines are wonderfully clear, and of course there are not as many chances for taking a wrong turn.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Stowing Away

After yesterday's experience, I stocked up with a decent pair of gloves at Lavelanet market before setting off for the 24 kms march back to Puivert. The temperature was -7 degrees Celsius.

It is 2 kms from the town centre to the start of the track which takes me most of the way. At the start of the track, as usual, I paused to extract from my rucksack the camera, the tiny tape recorder, the telephone, the pedometer, all of which I hung about me in accessible places.

Then I started walking. Then it started snowing, heavily. I stopped again (had to take my gloves off!) to stow away all that vulnerable electronic equipment.

Lavelanet is in the Ariege, whereas we live in the Aude. Surprisingly, there had been no snow on the ground in Lavelanet when I set off. This quickly changed as it snowed for most of my way home. Fortunately, because the temperature was below zero, my equipment (apart from my shoes) did not become wet.

The picture above was taken just before I came off the Voie Verte, with about 8 kms to go before reaching the warm and dry.

It continues to snow.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

When Will I Be (G)loved?

Here is another snow picture. Further falls are not now forecast for today but there may be some on Saturday. What we have is not enough to be a nuisance, which is more than I can say for the temperatures.

As I took this photograph of the chateau de Puivert during my walk this morning, the thermometer stood at -4 degrees Celsius and my gloves felt useless. I think it is the first walk during which I have kept my (begloved) hands in my pockets.

Apologies to the Everley Brothers for the title of this post - they get worse, don't they?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Snow Good To Us

"talesfromagarden" commented thus on my blog yesterday:

"Oh lucky you to have snow to go home to!Please post some photos!I know it will not help your walking but it would look so nice for christmas coming!
Keep up the good work and happy walking!"

Well, by the time we arrived home from Italy yesterday there was not so much snow here. Presumably it had thawed away a bit but then the temperature plunged so much that last night was a record in France for electricity consumption.

I took the above picture while walking home from Quillan this morning. There is more snow on the way tomorrow, when we were scheduled for a 100 kms round-trip to Pamiers for a car service. We have just managed to get that changed to this afternoon. Snow may look pretty, but it is pretty hazardous, especially in a hilly area with every road being twisty and every turn is on a rise or fall in the road.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow ...

No walking today. We were soaked while out yesterday morning and the rain has not stopped since. We don't have the appropriate kit with us to counter that, having travelled with Mr Ryanair and his "hand baggage only or you pay lots for checked luggage" policy.

So It is a cowering indoors type of day. The rain is scheduled to continue falling until after we leave tomorrow morning. We fly from Rome to Girona then drive home, from Spain to France and from the coast to the mountains. It could be an interesting journey . I understand that at home it is thick with snow, with more forecast to fall before we arrive.

I am hoping the snow does not stick around too long. Hopefully I will pack in a few more kilometres before the end of the year.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Etruscan Walking

I have managed to squeeze in almost 80 kms of walking this week, despite our transfer to Italy for the second half.

History is so visible here. Just outside my daughter's garden is the ruin of an Etruscan building. I say ruin, but it is a very solid looking piece of work, which has been there for at least 3,000 years and will probably still be there in 5,000 CE.

The Etruscan civilisation is one of many that Rome conquered and absorbed during its ascendancy. It is said that almost no aspects of the Roman civilisation were originally their own. Clearly the renowned durability of Roman building is something they picked up from the Etruscans.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

East is East and West is West

I have managed to pack a few walks into this week, but tomorrow it is back to another mode of transport, the great silver bird. We are travelling east but are confused because the picture above is of our Italian family, who look distinctly western, do they not?

The good news is that we have received our new modem and now have full connection with the outside world.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Little Versailles

It seems ages, so it probably is, since I did a walk of more than 30 kms. I rectified that today by walking from Mirepoix to Puivert, a distance of 33 kms.

After the first few yards of track, where I saw a woman with a dog, I saw nobody until I was in the middle of Chalabre, 23 kms later.

This view, snapped from the Voie Verte, the old railway track, is of the Chateau Lagarde with a backdrop of snowcapped Pyrenees. According to an information board it was known as the “little Versailles of the Languedoc”. It was certainly massive, but has been in ruins for some time.

The placard, which is not new, says that work is going on to restore it to its former glory.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


A break in this week's atrocious weather has given us a couple of fine days. It has also given me a chance to sneak in a couple of 18 kms walks.

This means I have been able to salvage 52 kms from what looked like being a walkless week, replete with hurdles both meteorological and medical.

Not much of a total for a Big Walker, but more than the average bear, methinks.

I seem to be heading for a total of not much more than 4,500 kms for the full year, which is probably a decent grounding for the Big One next year.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Meeting Some Resistance

I have not been for a walk in the past 7 days. This has been due to two factors. The first is that almost every day since then has been spent at one hospital or doctor, either for my eyes or Gay’s back.

The other is the weather. It is 3 degrees outside and lashing down with rain. A couple of hundred metres above us it is falling as snow. This is of benefit to some – 23 ski stations in the Pyrenees are opening this weekend because of the received bounty from the sky.

Of course they are also higher than we are. One of my walks last week with my baby brother started up on the Plateau de Sault, where some of the ski stations are situated. On our way back from a shopping trip to Andorra, Gay dropped Septimus Willem and myself at Espezel for a 20 kms walk home.

We deliberately diverted to the site of the Maquis du Picaussel. Here 400 members of the French Resistance camped out during the German occupation of World War II. They were supplied with weapons and sustenance by the RAF. From that height (over 1000 metres) they (the resistance, not the RAF) could see if the Wehrmacht made a move in their direction and this kept them safe throughout the war.

The Wehrmacht were not too pleased about this, so, at the last moment, as the Allies advanced and the Germans were in retreat, they decided to teach the Maquis a lesson. It was too much trouble to try to find them on the plateau (why did they not bomb them?) so they destroyed the town of Lescale a few hundred metres below.

Our walk took us via the memorial building at the Maquis camp, on a scramble downhill to Lescale, then on quiet roads back to Puivert.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Bright Lights Of Toulouse

Last week’s yomping with SW took me over 4,200 kms for the year so far.

This week I have not yet done much walking. Monday was spent at the hospital in Toulouse, about my eyes. In fact two hospitals because I was sent to a third one. The particular combination of problems in my eyes is causing some consternation in the medical fraternity.

After becoming familiar with a huge variety of machines, most of them involving very bright lights and numerous doctors (3 on Monday alone), I have now been given a very clear picture. I have a problem in both retinas for which there is no treatment, anywhere in the world. It will get worse. I also have cataracts on both eyes but they are not yet bad enough to take any action and in any case the other problem is the one causing me visual problems – cataract operations would not give me any perceivable benefit. New spectacles would similarly be of no use to me. There are some special Omega 3 capsules which may slow the degradation by 40%.

Not so good, then. But within the last week we read about the first successful retina transplant (or was it an artificial retina?), just completed. Conveniently, it was in France.

Tuesday morning we were at a different hospital – this time for Gay’s back. As we drove into Quillan it was raining heavily (also yesterday). As we returned, the rain stopped for a while to reveal the hills all around, covered in snow which is now well below 1000 metres (we live at 500 metres).

We are still without an Internet connection at home.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Vic in MacDonald's!

We are still without Internet access at home. So (and this will amaze our friends) we are sitting in MacDonalds (they all have free WiFi) which we only have access to because we are in Carcassonne, having just dropped Septimus off at the airport (thankfully we are far too rural at home to warrant a MacDonalds).

Sep goes home with about 115 kms under his belt. The weather has been superb for his visit and he is well pleased.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Normal Service Will Be Resumed As Soon As Possible

My blogging is a bit restricted at the moment because we are without an Internet connection at home, for at least another week.

We are changing from one provider to another. In their pique, the outgoing provider has pulled the plug as soon at it has received my notice letter.

In the meantime, walking is continuing without interruption. On Sunday we collected young Septimus from Carcassonne airport. He and I are tramping the trails in the excellent weather we have experienced here since our return from USA.

The picture was taken from 350 metres above Quillan (itself at 300 metres of altitude) Wednesday morning.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Dancing On The Ceiling

Today I had my first decent walk of the week. I seem to have spent lots of time this week in hospitals, x-ray centres and doctor's offices. I also started off the week with the heavy cold which could have been 'flu but fortunately was not.

Yesterday we had to go to Carcassonne and today is Friday so I have done the 24 kms hike back home from Lavelanet.

Another problem I have had recently has been the knee problem which has been troubling me for two or three weeks. Monday morning it was x-rayed, which showed there is no structural damage or, surprisingly, visible wear and tear or arthritis.

So the knee is still not perfect but I have been doing some exercises and things have improved a bit. The exercises were given to me by the surgeon who looks after the knees and other bits for the Italian soccer team. This was some time ago when I was having similar trouble with my knee. I had arranged to see him through Nicola's contacts in the bone-mending business. I expected him to say I needed an operation but, while I was on the inspection table, he grabbed the tendon under my knee-cap. When I came down through the hole I made in the ceiling, he said "You need to stretch that tendon and this is how you do it". The cartoon above is wonderfully appropriate.

So because of the foregoing, my kilometrage will not be enormous this week. We should get a decent climb down into and up from Quillan tomorrow morning. Sunday is looking a bit doubtful for walking because we are having another visit from Septimus so we have to pick him up at Carcassonne airport.

So the week promises to be one of the shortest I have had for some time but I am happy because the plan is to tick over into the beginning of next year, then have another burst of high-kilometrage weeks in New Zealand, then taper off again until VBW starts on May 15.

Dancing on the Ceiling? Lionel Ritchie?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I Walk The Line (dotted)

Been dashing about a bit since we came back from USA last Thursday. Today's dashing was to the second eye hospital in Toulouse. I was tested, and amazed, at the first hospital, by about ten pieces of electronic kit that they tested me with. I am even more amazed now because I have been done by some even more wonderful Star Trek-like contraptions.

I have never seen so many bright lights whizzing about (except in "Close Encounters"), some of which were extremely painful to my dilated eyes. It seems that not only do I have cataracts on both eyes, which I knew, but I also have "pattern dystrophy" in both eyes, which apparently is much more serious. Don't know what they are going to do about it - I have to see the professor again at the first hospital on 30th November. He is fully informed, because I wrote to him, of my schedule, which gives availability for only two 6-week periods at home between now and next August. So I hope that if something needs to be done, it is done either before the end of the year, or between end of March 2010 and VBW-day, which will be 15 May 2010.

However, I got the impression that they will now not bother to operate on my cataracts, which is a shame because I have been hearing such wonderful tales about the results. Not to mention that I have about £600 worth of maps for VBW which at the moment I can not read - I certainly can not make out the dotted lines which indicate the footpaths.

Monday, November 16, 2009

An Old Man's List Of Ailments

Picture if you will an old man in his 70th year. He is self-testing, with the appropriate ministry advice, to see if his sore throat and wobblies are a sign of swine flu.

It seems they are not, because the temperature is not sufficiently elevated. This is good, because he does not want to affect the people he has to meet today and tomorrow. That is, the health professionals he has to meet today and tomorrow in connection with his other ailments.

Tomorrow requires a trip to Toulouse for the remaining test on his eyes, before returning to the first hospital in two weeks time, in preparation for the operations. One of the things he has discovered is that if he has the retina operation in the near future, January's trip to New Zealand will be off. Why? Because apparently they put a gas bubble in the eye and if you fly in a pressurised cabin, the bubble explodes and blindness ensues. That leaves two cataracts to be dealt with.

At the lower end of his body, the knee is to be x-rayed this morning, after weeks of pain. The x-ray shows that the bones are in fine condition, with no sign of wear or arthritis. This is excellent news, but when the old man returns to the local doctor this afternoon, there is a certain amound of bafflement about what to do next.

The muscles, tendons and ligaments around the knee are very complex indeed. One of them needs to be stretched, but which one? The old man will opt for the "old towel pulling up the toes" trick. It has worked before, in similar circumstances.

May I remind you that this decrepit figure, with this list of ailments, is the one who will set out, in less than six months time, to walk 2,000 kms?

I am indebted to Vincent van Gogh for providing the splendid illustration.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


My American friend Jonathan (see "French For A While" linked on this page) has a current post which is headed simply "Sick". The rest of the post, a few words, underlines the point. Knowing Jonathan, he must be really ill if he can not dump his brain into his blog. He is not normally a man of so few words. Get well soon, J.

I hope I am not about to know how he feels, but I am definitely going down with something myself - the sore throat, the runny nose, the wobbly legs, the aching body, et cetera. I wonder where I caught it? Let's see, it is three days since I was on an aircraft ...

Friday, November 13, 2009


I have passed a few milestones today. At half past eleven this morning I was passing kilometre 13 on the Voie Verte, the redundant railway track. The track starts at the old Lavelanet railway station, 2 kms from the centre of town, so I had walked 15 kms. I still had 9 kms to go before I reached home. At that 15 kms point, I had clocked up 4,000 kms for the year.

More notable figures for today. It is the 25th anniversary of the day I met my wife Gay. It is also the 25th birthday of my granddaughter Alexandra – Alex’s birth was the reason Gay and I met.

Clearly we are back in France and back to normal walking patterns. Today I am hiking 24 kms, after walking just 7 kms a day in the hospital park in Indiana. Things have changed a little while we were away. The Pyrenees are blanketed with snow. The weir which we see as we enter the carpark in Lavelanet is pounding with water instead of the trickle there for the past few months. I think we can say that winter has arrived and the drought is over.

More statistics. I have already exceeded my training target for the year. The plan was to average 10 kms a day, which would have given me 3650 kms in total for the year. I am already well in excess of that - clearly more to be done before the end of the year, although there will be interruptions.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Farewell, Mr Lincoln

Well, we have had our last training walk in the USA before the big one.

Much of this week's walking was around Springfield, Illinois, where Abraham Lincoln spent most of his adult life before leaving for Washington as President-elect.

The Lincoln museum makes wonderful use of holograms and was well worth the 4-hour drive, the overnight, and the same drive back.

Our last walk here was in the park. Today we have no time for such things as we are about to set out for the 24-hour journey back. We shall not miss out on exercise - on the way here we walked 10 kms, just round airports.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Just Peddling

Today I am turning my blog over for a guest spot.

Justin Walsh-Newton contacted me some time ago, just before his own epic trip, which he has now completed.

He has ridden across France, starting not too far away from us, on the Mediterranean coast near Beziers. I am not sure exactly how close to us he came, but I know from reading his blog, that he passed through Mirepoix, and commented on its marvels. As I usually walk home from Mirepoix at least once a week, it is possible that we were there on the same day.

He says he met tons of interesting people along the way; he cycled over 1,000 miles; raised £3000 through just giving and got well over 10,000 hits on his blog.

So what? He is a young man, of only 43 years. Well, get this - he did all this within 11 months of open heart surgery to replace his Aortic valve.

What a hero. Now he is thinking hard about what to do next!

Read his blog at:

Thursday, November 5, 2009

I Am The Entertainer

I am the entertainer
And I know just where I stand
Another serenader
And another long-haired band
Today I am your champion
I may have won your hearts
But I know the game, you'll forget my name
And I won't be here in another year
If I don't stay on the charts

Verse one of a song which I know best as sung by the late Waylon Jennings. I have just learned, while preparing this post, that the song was actually written by Billy Joel.

Anyway, it seems that now I am The Entertainer. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago about the "Evening with Vic Heaney" which is being set up for after the walk.

Chris, who is the organiser and host of the event, has now put the details on his website. Click on the following URL for details:

May see you there!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Squirreling Money Away

Still managing to tick over by doing a 7 kms walk each morning. Lots of squirrels in the park, dashing about, piling up the nuts for winter.

This reminded me that Christmas is not too far away. We shall be doing the same as last year, sending out only a few cards to people who are not on the Internet, sending a message to everybody else, maybe an electronic card.

Scrooge? Not at all, the money we would have spent on the great annual Christmas card rush will go instead to a charity of my choice (guess which one?).

I urge you to do the same - if not to my charity Pancreatic Cancer, then to another. The money will do far more good than it would spent on an ephemeral card.

Monday, November 2, 2009

(Not) The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Walker

One of the disadvantages of being, for a change, in a city, is that walking is restricted to local parks and the quiet roads leading there. The main roads are impossibly busy, traffic-wise. I can not imagine how Dr Barbara Moore and others have walked across America, or even, as in the case of Bruce Tulloh, run from sea to shining sea.

However, one of the advantages of being limited by circumstances to shorter walks (about 7 kms of a morning) is that for a change I have the pleasure of being accompanied daily by Gay. We get out for our walk among the squirrels as soon as it is light, so as not to impinge on the day of our hosts. We come home and find that Lorenzo has cooked up a storm of muffins or pancakes. Jane's coffee is among the best in the world. So a jolly breakfast meeting follows the walk, with plans being made for the rest of the day or the week, such as tomorrow's drive to Bloomington.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Hallowe'en Ramble

We are managing to get in a regular 7 kms walk in the park every morning. First we have to walk down Dexter and another couple of streets, via some pretty amazing Hallowe'en displays in the gardens. One has a series of graves, with skeletal hands and bodies trying to climb out of the depths. On one roof there is a huge inflatable black cat on top of a house - almost taking up the entire roof. Every now and then it moves its head back and forth, scouring the area for victims. Unlike most cats it is not very observant - it does not seem to have noticed the sacrificial goat tethered in the garden next door.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Y'all Take Care, Now!

Greetings from the American Midwest, where y'all say howdy to your pard in the yard.

Wednesday we arose at 1 am for more than 24 hours travelling to Nashville. By the time Jane and Lorenzo met us there, we had driven and flown many thousands of kilometres, but had also managed to walk 7 kms round the airports of Toulouse, Munich, Charlotte and Nashville.

Thursday, after waking at a Best Western, we drove to the Loveless Cafe for breakfast accompanied by the twangy sounds of Nashville. Then the drive through Tennessee and Kentucky to Indiana. Only a couple of kms walked that day.

Today we were up before the larks for a walk in the park before the exteme weather, which has been sweeping across America, arrives. In the West it has dumped considerable amounts of snow along with strong winds. Here we are expecting just the winds and lots of rain, possibly floods.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Knees Up

I have been having a quiet few days, walking-wise. The persistent knee injury which stopped me running has come back to haunt me while walking. Not for the first time. It flares up every now and then. Normally a couple of days rest will settle it down, but I can not afford to do that too many times during VBW, when I will be walking 200 kms or thereabouts every week for 10 weeks.

So I had Saturday and Sunday off, walked 11 kms Monday and 6 kms today. We leave home at 0200 tomorrow morning for a drive to Toulouse followed by flights to Munich, Charlotte then Nashville. Walking will be fairly restrained by circumstances during our 2 weeks in USA, but by the time we come back I expect to have walked 4,000 kms in 2009.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

An Evening With Vic Heaney?

Sounds a bit over the top, doesn't it? As if I think I am a star - one of those people on the television - "An audience with ... Billy Connolly, Dame Edna, Neil Diamond, et cetera"

But it is happening. It's not my idea. Chris, a donor to Pancreatic Cancer research through my JustGiving page this week, has a guesthouse in a lovely location in this lovely area. He is brimming with ideas for raising my fund raising profile.

One of his ideas is the above "Evening With ...". With my approval he is going ahead with it. He is putting this up as a special offer on his guest house's website. After VBW, and as the tourist season tails off here, guests can come to stay at his place, where they will have an evening meal, with some other invited (and paying) guests from the area. I will give them a talk on my experiences during VBW - incidents and accidents, highs and lows, people encountered, anecdotes about things which I witnessed or which impacted on me along the way.

The guest house will subtract only its costs, the ingredients of the meal, the cost of cleaning the rooms. All other proceeds (including cheques written on the spot) will go to Pancreatic Cancer research. It will happen in September 2010.

This is an excellent idea. Futher plans are being developed for talks to other groups in the area and maybe beyond. Have talk, will travel, that's me. Stand by your wallets!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Plunging For A Battlebus

Despite the horrendous expense, we have taken the plunge and bought a motor caravan or camper, our "battlebus". It is a McLouis Steel 563. This will be our home and base during Vic's Big Walk. Gay will drive it on 30 kms each day while I am walking.

It will be our home, transport and office, bedroom, kitchen, dining room and maproom.

We collect it when we come back from New Zealand at the end of March. By then or soon after, it will be covered with a glorious pattern which will be produced by the design team at Columbia Sportswear, my major sponsor. This will proclaim Vic's Big Walk, the logo thereof, Pancreatic Cancer Research, blog address, fundraising address, and details of all the sponsors. It will all be in the best possible taste.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Muskrat Ramble

We went for a walk this morning which, before climbing to more than 700 metres, passed by the village lake, where a couple of days ago I photographed the critter which I then displayed on my blog (by the way, if you click the pic it will enlarge). By this morning, in fact by the afternoon of Tuesday, it had gone (somebody taken it away to identify it, or stuff it - or eat it?)

But what was it? Jackie and Bob Parry, on the Isle of Skye, sent this: "Saw the picture, and have been studying our books on the subject. It is either a Coypu or a Muskrat. Both are about 12" long. However, the Muskrat is now extinct in Britain; but could be established in France. Anyone else come forward with ideas?."

I think they are right. Further research reveals that the muskrat was reintroduced into France in the last century and is now regarded as a pest in some parts. You can read more about that here:

The above picture is of a muskrat swimming in the Marne river. It certainly looks like our little friend in Puivert.

"Muskrat Ramble" was an old record, by the way. Jazz, I think.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Having run out of excuses, I was out for a walk this morning. I saw this dead critter down by the village lake. Presumably it had been hit by a car. But what is it? European beaver? Coypu? Having called up pictures of both via Google, it looks more like the former, but not as big as either are described. A young one? It didn't have a flat tail, but then European beavers apparently have a tail nowhere near as flat as their Colonial cousins.

I would love to know the answer.

Monday, October 19, 2009

... And More Of The Same

I have a really good excuse today. We were up before six today for a trip to the eye hospital in Tolouse. Or rather one of the eye hospitals in Toulouse because I now find there is at least another one.

After spending all morning being tested by a series of interns and moved from one waiting room and one lab to another, I eventually got in to see the professor. He took one look into my eyes with one of his gadgets, and shouted "Paul!" Paul was one of the interns who had previously gazed into my eyes. The professor said something to him very quickly so that neither Gay or I could catch it. Then Paul took me away for some more gazing and bright lights before he announced that I needed to go to the other teaching hospital in the same city.

He had made an appointment for November 3, he announced. I announced that on November 3 we would be in the United States. So, when you get home, please ring this other hospital and change the new appointment, says he. We have don so - the second hospital knows nothing of this appointment. They eye hospital reception at the first hospital is now closed for the day (Toulouse is at least 2 hours drive from here, even on a good day, which today was not).

So I am no further forward. And I am left wondering what is so wrong with my right eye (this is in addition to the cataracts on both eyes) that the professor surgeon, to whom the first surgeion sent me, can not deal with it.

Not to mention that, due to our trip to New Zealand January-March next year, and Vic's Big Walk, May-July next year, I have just two periods of 6 weeks available between now and next August for what seems to be more examinations followed by several operations.

So, the walking point is - no time for actually "going for a walk" today, amongst that lot. But strangely, we did manage to clock up 6 kms in the huge hospital complex!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Excuses, Excuses! ...

Having already used plenty of excuses to explain my limited kilometrage this week, I thought I would stick in a few more.

This morning there was the market in Esperaza. We always go there and then I walk home, but today there was also the Apple Fair in Mirepoix, so we had to come home and have an early lunch so we could go there. Gay was going to drop me off in Camon for the walk home, which would be about 19 kms.

But then I realised why I had been limping this morning. Yesterday I walked into a solid oak table which is at knee height. Gave myself a good whack, which I soon forgot, except for the limping. Best to rest it awhile, then.

So this has been a week of 63 kms only. Not bad, but far less than usual.

If you want to keep up with me on the excuses front, here is a website which will provide you with a choice of 900 excuses to get you out of everything imaginable:

Friday, October 16, 2009


What I was trying to say yesterday, in my stumbling way, is that it is strange that I feel stiff in the legs not when I am walking long distances every day, but when I have a day or two off. Got to keep those legs moving.

Which is not something I am doing very well this week. For one reason or another, this is going to be a low kilometrage week. First we had rare and valued visitors, with accompanying reluctance to waste hours of the few they were here. Yesterday I was wrestling with our new Internet radio, trying to get it to connect to our router - can't do it, although I have just proved it will connect to Ang and Paul's router next door. Most of the wasted time was spent trying to make a call to the modem supplier's support number without finding an engaged tone. No luck there.

Today the morning was disrupted because we were expecting a plasterer who is coming to repair one of our bedroom walls where a builder accidentally broke through from next door. The plasterer could have come early, so this meant we could not do the usual thing of going to Lavelanet market so I could walk back. I went for another, shorter walk from home only to return to a message that the plaster is coming on Saturday afternoon instead.

I will be lucky to clock up 70 kms this week. That seems paltry, but it is actually the 10 kms average per day which is my ongoing target for this year.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Achy Flakey Legs

I am reminded this morning of one of the reasons I like to keep on the move - apart, that is, from the posse always on my tail.

My legs are stiff. I walked 18 kms yesterday, with a 300 metre climb built in. So what, you say, you do that all the time, sometimes much more. But yesterday's walk came after a few days of not doing much exercise because we had some rare visitors.

It's an age thing, I suppose.

On the other hand, one thing that can cause achey legs is salt deficiency. And, although I was carrying plenty of water yesterday (reinforced with salt as per the instructions from my hydration correspondent), because it was cool I did not drink a drop. Bad move, perhaps.

There is, of course, the possibility that I have finally succumbed to the cold which Gay has been throwing at me for the last week or so, with some assistance from Jim, who arrived here last Friday complete with his own cold. This would explain some other symptoms I am exhibiting, such as a suspect throat. Oh dear. Never mind, could be worse - each day's mail and news is always there to remind me of that.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sign Of The Times

We took Margaret and Jim back to Toulouse aiport yesterday - a journey we shall be making frequently for a while. The Eye Hospital is next to the airport - I have to be there next Monday and will then probably have to go several more times if the rumour of operations on my eyes is true. Then on 28th October we fly to USA for a couple of weeks, again from Toulouse.

Margaret and Jim, after a few days in UK, will be returning to Alberta, Canada, where they already have snow. They will not see the last of that until May next year.

Their departure means I can return to some serious walking so this morning I set off from Quillan at 7 degrees to walk home, knowing that with the big climb and the rising sun, things would soon be much warmer. Impossible to get it right with the clothing. I choose to wear shorts and shiver a bit, knowing that I quickly generate a lot of heat.

The signpost above is on the trail up from Quillan to the Col du Portel.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Wet Day, No Walk But Still Mirepoix

My normal Monday morning activity is to drive to Mirepoix, have breakfast, then walk 34 kms home while Gay shops around the market then drives the car home.

Today, which is the last day of a very short visit from our Canadian friends Margaret and Jim, there is no walk. But we still went to Mirepoix, a must for visitors to the area. A shame it was raining, but I was quietly pleased not to be walking for five and half hours in it.

Of course, within one minute of us being back in the house, the sun was making its first efforts of the day to break through the cloud and rain.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Back To Earth

Sharp contrast after the peace described in my last posting. After arriving home and cleaning up, Gay and I drove to Toulouse to collect our friends Margaret and Jim Gregson, from Canada, who are with us for a few days. So it was straight from empty roads and mediaeval silence to city traffic and jams. Horrid.

I shall not be doing much walking while Margaret and Jim are here - it has taken too long to lure them. so it will be just a bit of pottering about. I should still clock up not far short of 100 kms for this week and over 3700 kms for the year.

This morning we shall be going to the market in Esperaza as usual, but instead of me walking home, we shall then be going on to the stunning complete mediaeval walled city of Carcassonne, as seen above.

Friday, October 9, 2009

As It Was In The Beginning - Almost

I pause on top of the hill above Rivel. Altitude 540 metres. I have just walked 20 kms from Lavelanet - 4 kms to go until I arrive home - I have descended from this same height at Lavelanet to under 400, then climbed again.

The walk uses mainly the old railway track, with the last 7 kms on quiet roads. I have paused because it has just struck me exactly how quiet this road is. I can hear nothing. There is no wind, so no sussuration in the leaves. Just occasionally in the distance there is the sound of a crow. There are no sounds of modern civilisation, and yet I am 3 kilometres from my home.

I am walking on asphalt and in the distance a single power line crosses the road. It is several minutes since a car passed me. Otherwise, this is just as it must have been in the middle ages, or any time stretching back from about 100 years ago into the mists of time.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Profitable Walking

Walking is turning out to be a profitable business for me. I will soon be able to open a secondhand shop.

Previously I have found a dog whistle, a bicycle pump, a bicycle mudguard, a walking stick (actually a broom handle but just as fit for purpose). Yesterday, while walking from Quillan, I found this magnificent spanner - or is it a wrench> - in almost exactly the same spot where I found the stick.

What next?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Erratum - Just The Usual 'Flu

Bit of a correction to a recent posting on this blog.

That was not a swine 'flu vaccination I had last week. Apparently it was the "seasonal" 'flu jab which Mr Sarkozy kindly sends me each year. It is a bit early this year, presumably so they can clear the decks on that one and get down to the swine flu innoculations.

Thought I had better correct that in case people various, living in France, are thinking "where the hell is my swine 'flu jab if they are being sent out.

Panic not - preumably it will be here soon.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Team Columbia on the Voie Verte

I was trundling along the Voie Verte, as usual seeing very few people.

I came to a point where the track crosses the road at St Colombe sur l'Hers. A woman was walking her dog. Her husband was supervising from the car. As I passed, he said to me "You are Mark Cavendish!" "Of course!" I said, realising that he was pointing at my Columbia cycling shirt.

We then had a short conversation about why I was walking, where I was walking to, Vic's Grande Marche (Le GM de V, doesn't quite have the ring of VBW), he did that wrist wiggling thing the French do to express amazement, and we parted the best of friends.

Monday, October 5, 2009

It's Turned Out Nice Again!

That was a catch phrase of George Formby, also one of his songs. He was Britain's most popular comedian/film star/singer in the 30s and 40s. I used to pass his home on the way to school every day.

He could well be singing it here. I have just walked 34 kms from Mirepoix. When I started out the temperature was about 10 degrees. After the clouds had burned away, the sun was casting a spell of 27 degrees around me. It is forecast to be hotter in the next few days.

This is October! And yes, I live in the South of France, but this is the Northern Hemisphere, the sun is south of the Equator, and I live in the foothills of the Pyrenees, near Andorra, which is a ski centre.

Where will it all end?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Swine 'Flu and Dressing Down

Even having missed my long walk on Monday, I have still managed to clock up 103 kms in this week's glorious weather. When I say glorious, I am ignoring the fact that there is a bit of a dilemma about what to wear when the day starts out at 5 degrees, as this morning did, then ramps up into the mid-20s well before the sun is over the yardarm.

That would not be so bad if I was straight out of the house into walking, but when the first hour or two is spent trolling round the market, shorts and a cycling shirt are not quite good enough. Although there is one man we see at the market who wears running shorts even in the coldest weather. We saw him this morning and he was wearing the trademark shorts and a singlet. His other trademark is big walking boots with hefty socks spilling over them, like an old-time hiker. What's that all about? There is no evidence that he actually does any walking. Or dressing.

Most of my walks this week have been a bit tired, but I put that down to the fact that I had the inoculation for Grippe A - as swine flu is known in France - the other day. The nurse said not to eat any pork (not too difficult for a vegetarian) and not to drink alcohol for 4 days. We read the leaflet which came with the inoculation and neither of those things was mentioned, but it did say that fatigue could be an outcome.

My total for the week was 103 kms, 3610 kms for the year so far, not too far from my target of 4,000 kms for the whole 12 months.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Change Of Course

I have mentioned that my whole walking route through France has been under review because of my experienced danger of walking even on quiet roads. Here is the new version of my course. GRs are the long distance walking tracks of which there is a huge network in France (80,000 kms and almost as many again with slightly different designations!).

Vic’s Big Walking Route

France Section

Start Puivert track to:
Mirepoix roads to:
Lisle sur Tarn, pick up GR46
Rocamadour, switch to GR6
Les Eyzies de Tayac Sireuil, switch to GR36
Brantome, switch to GR 654
Rochechouart, switch to GR48
Saumur, switch to GR36
Le Lude
Pass East of Le Mans
Pass West of Alencon

English Section

Debark Ferry at Porstmouth, then:

Solent Way to Brockhampton SU 798 058
Wayfarers Walk to near Abbotstone SU 569 334
Oxdrove Way to Bradley SU 634 416
Three Castles Path to Ellisfield SU639 458
Thames Valley Circular to Goring SU594 807
Thames Path National Trail to Oxford
To Oxford 130miles (208KM) miles from Portsmouth

From Oxford

Oxford Canal to Braunston, then Hawkesbury Junction.
Coventry Canal to Fazely Junction, then Fradley Junction
Trent and Mersey Canal to Stone, Kidsgrove, Middlewich, Northwich, Preston Brook.
Bridgewater Canal to Leigh
Leigh Branch of Leeds and Liverpool, then Rufford Branch of L&L to Tarleton
Douglas/Ribble to Preston.
Roads to Blackpool.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Now It's Vic's Big Walk to New York!

An otherwise fairly accurate article about Vic's Big Walk in the English-language French newspaper Connexion, has me walking 70 kms a day for 70 days. This would give a total of 4,900 kms, which would get me to New York.

I think most of that would involve swimming, not walking. And it's not the sharks that bother me, it's the fish - what would a vegetarian eat in all that time?

I first crossed the atlantic by sea when I was 17 but this new way would be a novelty - there is always something to learn.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Satellite Guidance for Vic's Big Walk

I do not have a great deal of experience with navigation and I will be walking, in VBW, in many places with which I am unfamiliar. I have all the maps I need, but not very good eyes - in fact they are currently waiting for an operation each.

So I have been considering, for some time, the acquisition of a GPS navigation device. I have read a lot about them. I particularly read the reviews by people who have already used them. The consensus seems to be, with most, that the hardware is good but the actual maps are not up to much - particularly when we are talking about walking tracks rather than roads.

John Sparshatt at the Long Distance Walkers' Association told me a while ago about the Active 10 Plus, which provides mapping and navigation of a superior quality. It is the only one, I believe, which has a series of insertable cards to give great detail of where you want to be. There are separate cards for each region in France and one for each county in Britain. All this makes it a very expensive option for somebody wanting to walk through many of those regions and many of those counties.

Satmap, the makers of the Active 10, have come good on my behalf. They have given me a special deal on the hardware and will provide me with the map cards free - in fact they are going to make some special map cards to cover the whole of my route.

I am really looking forward to receiving this gadget and trying it out.

Find out more about Active 10 Plus here:

Monday, September 28, 2009

Travelling Man

We arrived home from England late yesterday evening.

In the past week we have spent only one full day at home and four actually travelling. I had expected the whole week to be a write-off as far as walking is concerned so I am very pleased to report that I actually managed to salvage a full 65 kms from the week, bringing the total for the year to date over 3500 kms.

This week should be a little more normal, although I have got off to a bad start. This morning's scheduled 34 kms from Mirepoix had to be abandoned because of other commitments.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Prang In Puivert

I was up early yesterday and walking in the dark, so that I could fit in a hike before we went off to Toulouse for the flight to UK. Just a short 7 kms out on the plain near the village. Not on the plane, you understand, although if I had done the same walk a couple of weeks before, I may have had a bit of a surprise.

Our lovely neighbour Ange was out for a walk with a friend in the same area when she came upon an aircraft in a field. There several bent bits, the wings were being removed and the fuselage was being loaded onto a truck.

This was the aircraft which tows gliders up from the Puivert airstrip. It seems that the pilot is 80 years old and has been performing this role for 50 years. To save fuel, he cuts the engine on the way down and reignites it for the landing. Presumably this does not always work, which accounts for an amended aircraft in the wrong place.

Our own flight later in the day was less dramatic, although not entirely without incident. But we did get here in the end.